'Runaway Bride' wins hearts in small town
By Casey Hailey
When we last left Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, they were driving off into the L.A. sunset in a limo, Gere having every intention of making an honest woman out of the street-walking Pretty Woman.
Nine years and one long limo ride later, Roberts and Gere find themselves together again in New England working on yet another romantic comedy, "Runaway Bride."
The movie, which makes its debut in theaters July 30, is about a reporter (Gere) writing a story on a bride (Roberts) who keeps leaving her fiancˇs at the altar.
Even more interesting than the emotional upheaval Roberts causes her grooms, though, is the impact the production had on Berlin, Md., the small town in which it was filmed.
"When a large movie company enters a small American town, something very special happens. The town becomes a movie set and its citizens become extras," explains resident Lawrence Mott on the Web site he created to chronicle the town's experience.
"Thousands turned out to audition for parts as extras, and the shooting disrupted the town's normal affairs quite a bit," said Mott in an interview.
Film crews arrived in Berlin last October and stayed for a little more than three weeks. In that time, houses were renovated, buildings converted and residents turned into actors. Even the town's name was changed, appearing in the movie as "Hale."
"It was busier than it has ever been, and it brought a lot of business in," said Mark Quillen, a desk clerk at the Atlantic Hotel. "The front part of our hotel is in the movie, and one of the rooms was the room that Richard Gere was supposedly staying in."
The Atlantic Hotel was also home to Director Garry Marshall during his stay, according to Manager Gary Weber.
Weber said that the production "overran the town."
"It was fun. It was hectic, but they were very easy to deal with," said Weber. "They even took over the hotel for a few days, but it also helped business."
Some businesses weren't as thrilled about the experience, though. The Berlin Hardware Store (which is featured in the movie as the Hale Hardware store) was so sick of the fuss that they stopped taking phone calls about the movie altogether, and were simply "not interested" in the matter anymore.
Who can blame them, considering 75-foot cranes, tons of camera equipment and filming throughout the night interrupted their normal routine on a daily basis.
Of course, Paramount made sure business owners were compensated for any "inconveniences." Businesses whose storefronts even appeared in the film received $1,000, according to Mott.
"The house on Baker Street was rented from the owners (Mary and Todd Lampman) for $20,000 for two weeks. They redid the inside for the movie and left it that way for the owners. Also, the Red Barn owner was paid $6,000 and the interior was completely redone," Mott reported.
The townspeople themselves seemed pleased with the whole experience.
"I'll tell you what, it was one of the best things that ever happened to this town. Paramount did everything they promised people. From the time they got here (about a month before they started filming) to the month after, they were just magnificent," said longtime resident Beverly Cooper.
Quillen agreed, saying the film crew was "very accommodating and pleasant," and overall the experience was a productive one for the town.
Some of Berlin's citizens even got to be in the movie itself. Berlin police officer Barry Neeb was cast as an extra and ended up making several appearances in the film.
"I got a casting call, and on the first day of filming I was in the softball game scene," Neeb said.
"After that, I guess I was just in the right place at the right time. The next day I came in with a friend of mine who is a mailman. The casting director looked at me and said, 'There's our police officer.' I couldn't fit into the uniform, so the mailman got the police officer part and I got the mailman part."
Even the local barbershop-quartet singer got a part. Resident Frank Nanna sang with "The Hale Four" and also played the town mayor. Weber said Nanna "had to learn new material and got to record a song for the soundtrack."
Weber also managed to land a small role.
"Actually, they're not called 'extras' anymore; they call them background," said Weber. He appeared in the "background" as a mailman.
With "Runaway Bride's" debut less than a month away, Berlin is once again buzzing with activity.
"Paramount has authorized the release of the film a day early (July 29) for Berlin residents, so we're selling tickets and having a block party," said Neeb.
"Right now we're working on doing a big luau party with professional hula dancers," said Weber, explaining that one of the big scenes filmed in Berlin was of Roberts' Hawaiian wedding rehearsal dinner.
"Right now the town is so excited, what with the movie coming out, that we can hardly keep our feet still," said Cooper.